The Social Democratic Party (SDE) youth wing has been forced to remove a caricature of the leadership of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in an online meme depicting the "grim reaper" visiting its ministers. The meme has in the past been used in online Russian propaganda.
SDE's deputy chair Katri Raik told daily Postimees Tuesday that the image – which contained the figure of death visiting in turn six doors with the names of EKRE ministers or MPs on them – had been unacceptable.
"I will speak with both the chairman of the party and the leader of the youth caucus at the earliest opportunity," Raik said, adding that she recalled memes in which she had appeared in the past, saying the experience hadn't been a pleasant one.
The themes of death and gore portrayed in the meme, a stock template which has appeared online in the past in various contexts and not an original work, had also been a factor, Raik said.
"Everyone in our party was very upset about this and we will definitely be discussing this issue within the leadership," Raik went on.
SDE youth wing leader: Meme highlighted poor political culture in Estonia
Õnne Paulus, SDE youth wing president, said that the post and meme had been prompted by the latest resignation, of Mart Helme, who stepped down Monday following a backlash over remarks he made on air about the recent US presidential elections and president-elect Joe Biden.
"This [a haemorrhaging of ministers – ed.), in our opinion, does not coincide with a good political culture," Paulus said.
"It was an innocent joke to draw attention to this. We did not want to offend anyone's feelings with this and have taken down the post as of now," she said.
In addition to Mart Helme's name, former ministers Kert Kingo, Mart Järvik and Marti Kuusik's names also appeared on the doors the grim reaper had already visited, along with that of MP Urmas Reitelmann, who recently stepped down as EKRE's representative on public broadcaster ERR's supervisory board. Each door was open, with blood stains spattering the threshold; Death is seen next visiting the as-yet closed door with finance minister Martin Helme's name displayed.
Martin Helme, who also appeared on the Tre Raadio broadcast Sunday and also commented, saying the recent election had been rigged, survived a vote of no-confidence initiated by the Reform Party on Monday.
While his name was not depicted in the meme, Rene Kokk also recently stepped down as environment minister, to be replaced by Rain Epler.
EKRE MP: Normalizing violence
EKRE MP Anti Poolamets hit out at the meme for both being irresponsible and lacking any viable humor content.
"This image not only expresses a hopeless lack of wit, but also completely normalizes the cult of violence accompanying the wave of rampaging that has reached Europe from the U.S, via the Black Lives Matter movement," EKRE MP Anti Poolamets said.
"I suppose the Young SDE are keeping an eye on the iconography of these revolutionary movements on social media and this is where these blood and reaper ideas are borrowed from," Poolamets added.
The "grim reaper" meme had appeared on social media as early as 2014, when it was used in the aftermath of the Russian Federation's annexation of the Crimea and the start of the ongoing insurgency war in eastern Ukraine.
In this version, the U.S. represented the scythe-wielding grim reaper, the doors displayed names of countries which had seen U.S. military intervention on some level, including Iraq and Serbia, with the about-to-be-opened door marked "Crimea" and, in fact, already open, with a booted leg, or in some versions a bear, depicting the Russian Federation and thus the U.S. being kicked out.
Center Party MP Tonis Molder said that such actions constitute incitement to hatred and violence and do not contribute to the development of a political culture. "Political views can also be expressed in a dignified and respectful way. It would be appropriate for the chairman of the SDE (Indrek Saar – ed.) to make a public apology," Molder said.
Center is in office at the national level with EKRE and Isamaa, SDE is in opposition with Reform.
Editor: Andrew Whyte